BRIEF BACKGROUND 

Without a doubt, OBAN is one of the pivotal communities in the development drive of Ejagham nation culturally and otherwise. It is therefore not a surprise that the OBAN extraction became the creator of a flagship annual cultural festival that has become the arena for socio-cultural interactions and entertainment, allaying a blend of undiluted unity in cultural oneness.

Figure 1Figure 1HRH Ntufam Stephen Edet Mbey Executing Libation at the commencement of 2018 Akachak Festival

This innovation is aimed at the revival of the Ejagham tradition, customs and culture encapsulated in the display of a variety of beautiful dances, colourful masquerades, super tasty cuisine and rich art and crafts of Ejagham people.

As the saying goes ‘’ give honour to whom it is due’’. It is therefore proper to mention that the Akachak as it is perceived today was the brainchild of Late Justice (Chief) Peter Odo Effiong Bassey. He conceptualised and presented the idea at Oban Congress with encouragement of his brother the Late Prof Charles Effiong (1st indigenous Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar) and the support of the  Oban Ntufam’s Council in 1982.

The Oban Congress was initially a gathering of the Oban people who came together to discuss issues affecting the community. These congresses were lengthy. So it was decided to incorporate some side attraction to make the congress more entertaining. So in 1984, the first pieces of entertainment added were drama presentations and cultural dances competition. Three years later the Miss Oban Beauty Pageant was introduced. Fast forward, in 2009 Oban Ntufam’s Council resolved to host a full-fledged cultural festival in Oban.

After the blueprint was drawn, eligible age groups were directed to create the different Ejagham cultural displays (masquerades and dances). This new festive activity was named the AKACHAK FESTIVAL. So in 2010, the Oban Akachak Festival was inaugurated. The inaugural edition featured six age grades with only Ekan Offa presenting a masquerade called Mgban Offa.

The festival also features other fun events during this festive period apart from the Miss Oban beauty pageant. They include excursion to Sir Amory Talbot Peak of Oban Hills between 2010-2017 and Etae Itokem (Itokem’s Rock) in 2018, Besinghe (wrestling), Age Grade football competition, Native cuisines competition, Akachak 10km Marathon and other side attractions.

AT THE CORE OF OBAN AKACHAK FESTIVAL

“The Ejagham people have always been known for their rich culture, mastery of sculptures and other distinct aspects of traditions” (Chief POE Bassey, History of Oban). Today, the young generation are completely oblivious of the Ejagham tradition, customs and cultural heritage. This lack of knowledge amongst the youths has allowed traditional lapses and created behavioural impudence towards trado-cultural beliefs.  Embedded at the core of Oban Akachak Festival is the revival of the body of knowledge of Ejagham Tradition. The Akachak festival has therefore become a melting pot of the rich accumulations of Ejagham tradition, customs, culture and values.

HIGHLIGHTS OF AKACHAK FESTIVAL 2018

The Nchibe Dance – Warriors Dance

Nchibe is one of the most prestigious dances performed by the Ejagham people. It is an important all men dance.

Figure 2 Nchibe dance during the festival

The Nchibe masquerade is held in very high esteem. The masquerade must be donned by an indigene whose parenthood is not in doubt.

Figure 3 Nchibe dance and Acolyte

Figure 4 Nchibe walking on Leopard skin

It is worthy of note that the Nchibe does not walk on bare ground but on a leopard skin. The significance of walking on Leopard skin shows royalty and the level of respect accorded the masquerade.

During its performance, two able bodied men are assigned to manoeuvre the skin for the Nchibe to ensure that Nchibe steps on the leopard skin. The male Nchibe is always restrained and controlled by an able bodied man. Nchibe is both male and female.

Figure 5 Nchibe dance paying respect to HRH Ntufam Stpehen Edet Mbey

Figure 6 Nchibe dance Male (left) and Female (right)

The female is always beautifully dressed and adorn with colours. According to Ancient traditions, nothing crosses the front of the Nchibe and survives to tell the story. The male and female Nchibe can be likened to what is fondly referred as “the beauty and the beast”.

Nchibe dance step is called ‘Echemim’ which literally means ‘stepping’ due to its peculiar dance style. The Nchibe is danced by both the old and the young. 

Figure 7 Nchibe dance being cheered by young performers during the festival

The Nchibe has an egg basket bearer. The egg bearer occasionally launches an egg on the forehead of the Nchibe any time it becomes too aggressive to handle. When the Nchibe sets out there is always a young boy of about ten (10) years that leads the way.

Figure 8 Nchibe dance and the egg bearer

It is believed that Nchibe has a soft spot for children.

Figure 9 Ekan Offa women cheering the Male Mgban Offa dance during the festival

Nowadays Nchibe performers include both men and women. The dancers that accompany the masquerade are clad in white wrapper and carry two sticks while Nchibe carries steel arrows.

Figure 10 Nchibe dancers bearing arrows

Figure 11 Nchibe dance and accompanying dancers

Ache Abo Dance

In the early 18th century, as supported by myth, the women in an effort to respond to the different social gathering convene by men folks decided to have theirs.

Figure 12 Ache Abo Dance during the festival

Prior to Ache Abo dance, EKPA institution is another and arguably the most dominant Ejagham women socio-cultural institution, doubling as a judiciary system for the enforcement of norms and

punitive mechanism for women. In the Ejagham language the term “Ache” means PLAY. According to the Oxford Advanced Dictionary, it is the engagement in activity(ies) for the purpose of enjoyment and recreation. ABO means HANDS. Together, ACHE ABO is the rhythmic clapping of hands accompanied by songs and in modern times, drums.

In ancient times, Ache Abo was a dance group made up of mostly married women but today all females who have come of age are allowed to dance with the older ones.

Figure 13 Ache Abo women dancers identified by their uniform

Figure 14 Ache Abo women dancers identified by their uniform

Figure 15 Ache Abo women dancers identified by their uniform

Fast forward to the present day, Ache Abo has transformed from the use of hands to the use of sticks (ati nyhayhagha), a product of bamboo plant. This innovation was to eliminate the pain incurred due to prolonged clapping during the performance. This therefore attests to the fact that the Ejagham Woman is capable of creativity. Today, Ache Abo performance groups from different communities have uniforms that stand them out wherever they perform.

Figure 16 Ache Abo women dancers identified by their uniform

Besinghe (Wrestling) – Fight of the Brave

This is the Ejagham traditional wrestling contest. Historically, besinghe was a contest for young bachelors seeking a hand of a maiden in marriage. The activity which started as a mere social and relaxing event, later became a basic requirement for selecting potential wife in the community.

Figure 17 Besinghe performers

As a competitive sport, Besinghe is a friendly physical strength showing technical and tactical understanding of belief and fitness. Winning comes when one of the competitors is wrestled to the ground on his back.

Figure 18 Besinghe performers

In the present day, like in ancient times a circle is drawn on the ground, representing the boundaries of the wrestling envelope. Any competitor who goes outside the circle is disqualified. The other person automatically becomes the winner. This sport has become a part of the Akachak festival.

Figure 19 Besinghe performers

Bakor is formed from two Ejagham words :” Ba “and “kor“.

“Ba” means come.

“Kor” means take.

Bakor means ‘Come and Take’.

During the advent of colonial administration, Ayokaba descendants within the central and The present cross river state North were shared between Ikom and Ogoja administrative areas for administrative convenience.

In Ikom , were the following Nde, Nnam, Nta, Nsele, Abanyum and Ofutop. In Ogoja administrative area was, Ekajuk, Nkum and Nkem traditional clans of Ejagham speaking people.

In order to maintain their cultural bond of Brotherhood, that has kept the Ayokaba descendants right from time, great sons of Nkum, Nkem, Ekajuk , Abanyum, Nde, Nsele,and Nnam met at Alok, to see how, they can come up with a cultural union of all the Ayokaba descendants of Ikom and Ogoja administrative areas.

All this took place during the reign of great kings such as HRH Ntol Robert Mgbe of Alok, HRH Ntol Gregory Ibre Adima of Nkum, HRH Ntol Itashu Mgbeje of Nkem, and other clans heads . Among the illustrious sons and daughters who initiated this action were Late chief EE Monjok, Ntol Philip Nakuku, Justice Fidelis Ikogor Nnang, Chief JI C Igbe, Chief Ishong Ayim, MR Nkor, Hon. Akumjom, Akayi Ifop and many others.

When it was resolved that a Union of Ayokaba descendants of Ikom and Ogoja administrative areas come together to form a cultural union to promote and preserve their cultural values, and refresh their brotherhood, the issue of under which umbrella body arose. This first meeting ended successfully, and all members present were given an assignment to come to the next meeting with a suggested name for general endorsement by the house in the next meeting.

When they all met in the second meeting, the name suggested by late justice Nnang was taken, which is Bakor, the two common words that mean the same in all the nine (9) clans of Ayokaba descendants . The hospitality of the Bakor man and woman that believe in sharing, quickly made this name to be generally accepted and endorsed by all. That was how the Bakor cultural union came to be, with Ntol Gregory Ibre Adima, the Ntol Atol one of Nkum, emerging as the pioneer Grand commander.

Yes Bakor is a name that really speaks of the Bakors generosity.

In Bakor, it is wickedness and selfishness of the highest degree to eat your meals indoors.

In Bakor you must invite any passer-by to join you in your meals.

In Bakor, you must share your crops with a very large number of friends and extended family members yearly.

In Bakor, any one who passes around your farm during harvest, you must give him a yam to take home.

In Bakor, when you are about to prepare a meal, you must make provision for the unknown visitors.

Yes, in Bakor you must be the father to any orphan in your mist.

In Bakor the visitors are given preferred attention in all acts of sharing.

Bakor is an invitation to share. Hospitality is Bakor’s common identity. What is not shareable among them are wives, husbands and children.

To promote their cultural values, it was resolved that New yam be celebrated by all the member clans of the Bakor union on the same date, and the venue rotated among the Eight( 8 ) initial clans to foster the unity and refresh the clans affinity as true descendants of Ayokaba the great, not minding the colonial administrative lines.

Later, the Ofutop clan joined the Bakor union making the Ninth clan.

The month for the celebration was taken as September of every year. 15 September was agreed as the date. Nine clans , coming together, To offer thanks giving to God On the Ninth month of every year. That is the Bakors refreshing themselves for the purpose of keeping their bonded love alive and aglow.

New yam celebration among the Bakors is older than the Bakor union. It has been the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God by the descendants of Agba , Otuboki performed by the chief priest , Ayokaba while on their journey from Central Africa. It is the sacrifice of the first fruits to the God of fertility, and giver of plenty.

Yam, among the Bakors, is regarded as the king of all crops. The movement of these three (3)Zulu great warriors and their descendants took them many years before they arrived at their final destinations. The major crop that survived them at the time was yam.

To the Bakor man , yam is a mysterious crop that speaks volumes about life. The manner in which yam grows left the Bakor to treat it with all respect as a very major item of annual thanks giving to God.

Firstly, there is a long preparation that starts with reconciliation of aggrieved members of the Bakor families. The Bakor farmer goes to his farm, harvesting as many tubers on the eve of new yam. He shares these to his aged and dependent large extended family members, friends and Neighbours. He takes some to his in-laws with some other gifts of palm wine and clothes.

First is the celebration in the house by the head of the home, where for those who believe in the traditional African religion will appease their gods. Those who have embraced Christianity would gather with their tubers of new yams to be blessed in their various churches. When this is done, the grand finale new yam celebration is now done in the selected venue for the year. Here, all the people are gathered with their visitors, neighbours and well wishers in an open place, well decorated.

The Royal fathers are seen in their proper regalia coming out in a single row, ushered in by a special Divine dancing group that usher in peace and protection for all. The Royal fathers move in union ,in their regal steps to the farm within the venue, which is planted for purpose of the celebration, and religiously dig out the white new yam, and raised it to God in thanksgiving, while the people shout for joy, and in appreciation of God’s kindness, favour and wonders, for blessing the works of their hands.

The chief celebrant, assisted by other senior Royal fathers, now hand over the new yam to the ready maidens, well tutored on their religious assignment. They now roast the yams carefully, in a specially prepared camp fire, peel it as instructed, prepare the special palm oil stew, and gently, but with an inviting smile, place it before the Royal fathers. At this point, each clan Head is called upon to share in the roasted yam.

It is a way of renewing the bond of unity among the children of Ayokaba, sharing once more the very food that provided their great ancestors with the strength they needed for their journey to the promised land.

To the Bakors, new yam is like the Holy Eucharist, that draws the people closer to God in thanksgiving, and reunites the people with God, the giver of all . while deepening their belief in life after death, as in the mystery of a half or a very small tuber of yam sowed in the ground becoming a whole bigger yam after seven (7) months of intensive care for the yam farm.

The people eat this special unity food in solemnity, sharing it with visitors and friends ;and after this, other food items and drinks are served to all amidst traditional dances displayed from all the nine clans.

Farmers’ competition, and other games are the side attractions that make the celebration more enjoyable. Miss Bakor eventually emerges yearly. To the Bakors, the new yam celebration is the highest festival. It draws the people to nature, and reminds them that, like the old yam, if properly taken care of, gives rise to a new tuber of yam, living a good life with neighbours and relating well with God can give you a good place among the ancestors even after death. It is a time to reflect on life and the invisible hand of God in the affairs of man, as evidenced in the mystery of who changes the old yam to the new one being celebrated on the new yam day.

15th September every year is a day that all Ejagham tribes, the Bantu all over the world, their friends and Neighbours should come and share in the very rich culture of the Bakor generosity.

The name Bakor is an invitation on its own, meaning “Come and Take“.